European court upholds partial ban on neonics

The European General Court issued a verdict on Thursday upholding the European Commission’s decision in 2013 to restrict the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments (neonics).

The ruling is seen as a win for the movement to restrict European farmers’ access to the chemicals used to prevent pest damage to crops.

Neonic manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta, with support from European farm and seed industry groups, had asked the court to annul the partial ban that was implemented in 2013, arguing it relied on a hypothetical risk. Syngenta also sought compensation of at least 367 million euro.

The court said it “dismisses in their entirety the actions brought by Bayer and Syngenta in relation to the neonicotinoids clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid.”

The ruling refers to the European Union’s ‘precautionary principle,’ which allows government institutions to take protective measures if there is “scientific uncertainty” regarding risks to human health or the environment.

Both Bayer and Syngenta issued statements expressing disappointment with the decision. Bayer says it will “review the verdict in detail and assess its consequences and potential legal options.”

“The handling of this specific case reflects our more general concern at the approach the European Commission is taking to regulating technology in agriculture,” says Syngenta in its response. “Predictable, transparent and science-based regulation must lie at the center of meeting this challenge. Scientific and regulatory excellence in Europe has increasingly become politicized. This has negatively affected all interested parties and above all, has damaged consumer trust.”

In April, European Union member states voted to add to the 2013 restrictions, effectively banning outdoor use of the three neonics. The court ruling on Thursday is seen as supportive of the “greenhouse only” decision last month.

The UK National Farmers Union, European Seed Association, Agricultural Industries Confederation, and other farm and seed industry groups supported Bayer and Syngenta in the case.

Registered interveners that supported the EU side of the case included Greenpeace, the Pesticide Action Network Europe, Bee Life European Beekeeping Coordination and the National Union of French Beekeepers.

Bayer and Syngenta have two months to decide whether to appeal the European General Court decision.

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Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin

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